Abortion provider found guilty of extortion in bizarre Ocala trial
February 2001

What follows is a Feb. 1 press release from the Right to Fight Defense Committee for Dr. James Pendergraft, the doctor who owns an abortion clinic in Ocala and who was charged with extortion by anti-abortion officials there. See the January '01 Iguana for background on the charges and the trial.

The Right To Fight Defense Committee for Dr. James Pendergraft is outraged by the guilty verdict in his trial for extortion. We have maintained since the indictment and throughout the trial that the Government never had a case against Dr. Pendergraft. The evidence presented in the trial absolutely confirms our stand that the indictment was fueled by anti-abortion politics, and with the comments made by U.S. attorney, Devereaux, in open U.S. Federal court, it appears racism is another contributing factor.

We believe that the denial of the motion for change of venue out of Ocala, and the conservative anti-abortion sentiment in the area, and the judges refusal to question jurors on their abortion stand, prevented a fair trial for Dr. Pendergraft.

The three principals in the investigation against Dr. Pendergraft; Pam Piersante, the FBI agent on the case; Larry Cretul, the chairman of the Board of Commissioners of Marion County, and Bill Virgil Wright, attorney for Marion County, are not only personally anti-abortion, but belong to the main churches in Ocala, whose prominent pastors had organized a concerted campaign with their numbers to try to stop Dr. Pendergraft from opening a reproductive healthcare clinic in Ocala. They blatantly used their positions of power to achieve their personal and political anti-abortion agenda. To those observing the trial, it appears that the conspiracy was on the side of the government. Dr. Pendergraft's lawyers were prevented from calling as witnesses the County Commissioners and prominent pastors who organized against him.

We continue to stand with Dr. Pendergraft and maintain his innocence.

This trial is a part of the war against abortion and all women's reproductive rights that is flourishing in this country today. We think the guilty verdict has fueled their agenda to use this precedent setting case to go after other providers in the same way. This trend must be stopped! It has also brought thousands of people's attention, from across this country, to the fight of Dr. Pendergraft and all providers.

We stand firm in a woman's right to choose and with the providers who are heroes for continuing to provide abortions in these dangerous times. We will fight against these attacks until we win!

Right to Fight contact information: (301) 788-6252 Website: www.righttofight.org

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